Jonathan Hickman brought back the wonder to the Fantastic Four, and it’s all over this collection, drawn by the always excellent Steve Epting.

What makes Hickman’s work here so enthralling is that the Fantastic Four are pivotal among world shaping events, not just knocking the stuffing out of the Super-Skrull for the twentieth time. When familiar enemies do appear, for the most part they’re re-calibrated in order that their presence isn’t justification for another fight scene. Except for the Yancy Street Gang, but even they’re given a modern gloss, while their purpose remains comedy relief. These are intelligent comics exploring big issues for an intelligent audience.

The Fantastic Four are separated for much of this volume, which opens with Valeria Richards striking a deal with Doctor Doom, having discovered some of her father’s secrets. He has bigger problems on his plate when confronted by an angry Silver Surfer who’s discovered the corpse of Galactus deep beneath the Earth. Susan Richards is fathoms beneath the sea attempting to broker a deal between the current day Atlanteans ruled by the Sub-Mariner and a race who’ve evolved in parallel beneath the sealed ice of Antarctica. The Thing and the Human Torch hang out, until they find themselves in the way of Annihilus launching a second annihilation wave.

Since the millennium Epting has been among Marvel’s most accomplished regular artists, and one of the best at convincingly portraying the quieter moments of human interaction. This works particularly well in the early scenes with Valeria and Doom, and among other notable moments is delivering a visual effect to define Alex Power’s abilities, one only possible in the computer age. Those possibilities also accounted for the events of the penultimate chapter to be spread far and wide before publication, which is a shame. Better to come to them without advance knowledge, as for all the hype it’s a well considered, morally driven story. The same can be said about the final sequence, drawn by Mark Brooks in which Franklin Richards and his favourite hero Spider-Man have a conversation about their respective Uncles.

The continuity at this point drives not to volume five, but to FF volume 1 as the Future Foundation take a run in the spotlight for a few collections.